14 March, 2015

Vintage Police Car

by Dave Loud 

The Fire Engine next to Loch Ness, on Dave’s first Vintage challenge

After driving a vintage Fire Engine and Ambulance from one end of the country to the other and back, I started to look around to purchase a vintage Police car to complete the triple challenge. This was not as easy as it seems; there are a few about, but to get the right age, low mileage, good condition, and as original as possible, was a challenge. Too young, and it wouldn’t be vintage (also, the last thing I wanted was to be arrested half way to Scotland for impersonating a police officer); too old, and it wouldn’t stand the two thousand mile journey without major issues. However, eventually I found one that fitted the requirements: a 1969 Wolseley. It was being used in the film-making industry near London, and after some lengthy negotiations it was sold to me on the condition that it could be used to complete some scenes in a film about the Kray twins.

So a couple of months later, I caught the train to Horsham where the car was being stored, and after being assured that it was in reasonable condition mechanically, and thinking it would be easier than the two other vehicles to drive, I set off back to Somerset. For the route back I choose A and B roads so I could take it steady and not be a nuisance to other road users. I chose the A272 so I made my way across to it, and having driven for about forty minutes I came across a place I’d never heard of called Uckfield. I then realized I was on the right road but going the wrong way, so I turned around and headed back the way I came. Although some would say it was a waste of 40 minutes, I enjoyed the drive and I went to a place I’d never been to before!

Once I was going in the right direction on the right road, everything seemed to be fine. It wasn’t until I was half way back that I noticed the temperature gauge going up, and all of a sudden a plume of steam came from under the bonnet, and the car died... I might add, on a blind bend and in the middle of a bridge, bringing traffic in both directions to a screaming halt!

A kind gentleman offered to tow me to the nearest layby which I readily accepted, where I realised I didn’t even know where the bonnet catch was.

After a phone call, I lifted the bonnet to find water everywhere, and a leaking hose. I managed a temporary fix to the hose, the engine dried out and started, and so I ventured forth again. Within half an hour it stopped and died again. This time it was something else and I couldn’t get it going again. So much for being mechanically sound! So, I had no option as it was getting dark: I called my son. I was very lucky, he was home and told me to stay put, and he would find me and tow me back home.

Eventually he did find me, and with a piece of rope that was hardly long enough we began our way, limping, back home. However, as my son had never towed anyone before, and with a rope only long enough to allow 4ft between the vehicles, I found we were doing 60mph and passing everything that had passed me in the previous half hour. My instructions before setting off were to go steady, and if there was anything I felt that was wrong I would flash my headlights. Having said that, it wasn’t until we started off that I found I didn’t know how to switch the lights on. The more I waved, the more he waved back! Having brakes that wouldn’t stop a push-bike, it was the most frightening journey I had undertaken, but, bless him, we made it back in one piece with no incidents.

This was a very stark reminder of what could happen on the journey from Land’s End to John o’ Groats. It is one thing being close to home with people you can call on, but totally different on the lonely roads in Scotland. Having got the car back to Somerset, I set about with a fellow vintage Wolseley owner and local mechanic, Roger Curtis, repairing or replacing parts that may cause problems on route. This took about two months to complete. Then it was just a case of waiting for the weather to be clear in most of the country for a few days. Driving in rain with an old car is not fun: the windscreen wipers are not as efficient as more modern cars, and tend not to clear the windscreen of rain and spray fast enough, so a period without rain was preferable.

The first leg of the journey was from Somerset to Land’s End and back to Somerset, which is about 450 miles. This was a testing time with new parts that had been fitted and old ones that had been checked over. I was listening to every squeak and rattle, and I was sure that I was going to break down, but as it was I only had to replace a snapped clutch pin and a side light bulb. The car was checked over mechanically again, including brakes, etc. before I attempted the journey from Somerset to Perth, and then on to Inverness.

Just north of Inverness on the A9, I was conscious of a car tailing me for some time. All of a sudden, all the lights in creation came on, and I was stopped by an unmarked Police car. I saw many Police cars on the way up that put their lights on, waved and smiled, but this was the first time I’d been stopped. I sat in the car waiting to find out their reason for stopping me. I was sure it couldn’t have been speeding, although the speedo was about as accurate as using your finger for a thermometer. Maybe a brake light had failed.

Well, I was about to find out: it was only curiosity that got the better of them, and they just wanted a look and chat with the driver, and to ask why he would want to drive a Police car from Somerset to Scotland. They made it plain that I had been a great source of interest since I left Somerset, having been on camera most of the way (most motorways these days are monitored by C.C.T.V.). Having told them what I was doing, they wished me good luck and a safe journey and said, We’ll see you on your way back.

The A9 north of Inverness, as many of you may know, is very remote, but has lovely scenery with the coast on one side and mountains on the other. It crosses several estuaries and I saw otters and red deer. I stopped in Wick that night, and then went on to arrive in John o’ Groats the following morning, where I was greeted by my brother-in-law who works in the area, along with people I met though the Fire Engine and Ambulance trips. They heard that I was coming back, but this time with a vintage Police car.

Dave Loud with his vintage Police Car 
Start: 17th September, 2014
Finish: 9th October 2014
Mileage: 954

Having completed a good part of the journey, and feeling well-rested, I starting to plan the journey back with the confidence I had built up with the car, and I decided to take a slightly different route back.

The journey back down though Scotland was absolutely fabulous: the weather was kind, and along with the breathtaking views that Scotland has to offer, the journey went well. During my journey back down through Scotland, people waved and were fascinated to see the vintage Police car. Everywhere I stopped, a barrage of questions greeted me. I was surprised at the number of people I met that had never been south of the border, let alone to Somerset or Cornwall. People were really interested to hear of my journey and of my previous journeys.

I also told them of my great-great-grandfather who was killed at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, and they were all very interested until I explained that he wasn’t actually in the battle; he was camping on the other side of the hill, and was killed when he went over to complain about the noise! This and other stories kept me busy most nights in a lot bars in Scotland - great fun.

One of the most amusing events was when, on the return journey, I reached a service station north of Manchester and decided to take a break and fill up with fuel. Having parked the car in the car park and gone inside for refreshments, I came out to find a crowd of people around the car, one of whom asked me if it was mine, and proceeded to tell me that he had seen one on TV but never in real life. Being in no hurry, I offered the gentleman and his family of two sons a ride in it, which they readily accepted.

Having driven around the car park, I heard a conversation coming from the back of the car which went something like this: ‘Hello Mum, I’m in the back of a Police Car.’ I don’t know what the reply was, but it must have been something like, ‘Where’s your father?’ The answer was, of course, ‘He’s in the Police car too.’ The phone was passed over to the boy’s father, he endured some high volume words, and when they died down he explained the situation. We all couldn’t stop laughing. Mothers!

The rest of the journey was relatively uneventful, but still with people waving and smiling. This was uplifting, and made the journey seem that much shorter, and I arrived back in Somerset to a family gathering. The experience of driving from Land’s End to John o’ Groats and back in three vintage emergency vehicles has been a serious task: about 5,600 miles in total. With no major incidents or even near-misses, it was all achieved safely. I believe this was due to a lot of thought, planning, and many safety precautions adhered to, and also just good luck. The whole thing has been very rewarding for me. The challenge itself is unique, and as far as I am aware, has never been achieved before. I still can’t believe I’ve done it.

I must mention the people I met on the way: so many kind and helpful people. I met some from all three emergency services. To those who encouraged me when I wasn’t sure it could be achieved: thank you.

On a sad note, my mother passed away shortly after I finished this challenge. Mother was fully aware of what I’d achieved, and followed it with great interest, and I would like to dedicate this challenge to her.

An angel came down from heaven and touched my face, 
Then took my hand and led me to a better place.
June S. Loud 1930 – 2014

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